review by Paula Nechak, 27 June 2003

Not So Demonic After All

When Demonlover screened as part of the 2002 Cannes Film Festival lineup it bisected the audience, eliciting either euphoria or agony. The French writer and director Olivier Assayas had suddenly acquired the mantra of a Moses in the midst of parting a cinematic Red Sea of controversy, acclaim and admonishment.

Assayas, who has tackled a new genre with each effort - among them the lush, epic period detail of the flawed Les Destinées, modern-urban angst of the great Late August, Early September, and the comic ambiance that tints Irma Vep - never shies from challenging his skills as a filmmaker. But Demonlover, which has the glistening, clean severity of technological corporateness, sliced its audience so cleanly that the cheers and jeers all but overlooked the question that arose after the roars abated: "Hey, what's this movie about?".

While there's something appealing about a film that so stridently polarizes viewers and promises a staunch visceral response whether or not you love it or hate it, you've got to admit that in the end such extreme reactions unite its antagonists in the breadth of emotion rather than divide in any real argument or parlay.

I just recently watched Demonlover on DVD. I stacked the deck, hearing the film would have a substantial ten minutes slashed out of it for U.S. release and opted to test my unwieldy French on a Europe-zoned disc. That presented an opportunity, I believed. I would rely upon the visual to force a narrative, since I'm not totally fluent in the French language, and see if I could make hide and hair of a film that perplexed a legion audience watching in a mostly native tongue.

My instincts tell me Demonlover is a terrific cautionary tale, a film about us, about our future and, if current world events continue, our once and present distance. It's less apocalyptic than, say, The Road Warrior was two decades ago but we now have the familiar advantage of internet technology to speed us toward the irretrievable, inevitable end that the film introduces.

Amazon Connie Nielsen is Diane de Monx, a clinically effectual cleaner who works for Herve Le Millinec (Charles Berling). Le Millenec is in stiff competition with a rival corporation to acquire an elite 3-dimensional Anime techno-porn product from Tokyo Anime Comic Books that will revolutionize the adult internet. Divided into three systematic parts, the film initially concentrates on Diane's swift and ruthless efficiency; the second chapter segues into thrusting us into the underworld of pornography that so mobilizes and motivates these characters and the third section oddly humanizes and completes Diane's journey, tying the film up in an ending that is predictable a clear half-hour prior to the final credits if you think about it. It's a strangely haunting and eloquent conclusion to all the churningly sexual and violent images that have predetermined its coming.

Assayas throws us down this rabbit hole of wrenching debasement with glee, as if to taunt us: "You want it, well, you've got it now." And for most viewers, most likely those who despised the film, the trip across this river Styx is unsettling and unnerving. But for those who can sit just a little further back and understand the warnings and omens of the film, it's a fascinating, deeply provocative prod.

He winds this story around the elemental premise of love while making a monstrous aberration of its essence. Demonlover ultimately becomes an entire jangle of contradictions: love, and unrequitement; sexism butted against female strength. More, its still, minimalistic style and clean, swift modern steeliness can't disguise its core, fetid-crumbly, old-world European smell. I think in his heart, Assayas, acting the bad boy and frenzily whipping us with what we have become, pines for the good old simple days he lushly depicted in Les Destinées as well as the code of friendship and honor that was the spine of Late August, Early September.

In Demonlover he demonizes us and our inability to connect in the ways we were meant to connect. The irony of all this cold calculation and inanimate desire and violence is that he has pinpointed what is perhaps the most sorrowful and perhaps preventable, of human tragedies.

Written and
Directed by:

Olivier Assayas

Connie Nielsen
Charles Berling
Chloë Sevigny
Gina Gershon
Jean-Baptiste Malartre
Dominique Reymond
Edwin Gerard
Thomas M. Pollard
Abi Sakamoto

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
been rated.






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